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  1. They should remove toxins from their bodies.
  2. They should remove toxins from their body.

I am confused about these two sentences above. I think the first sentence is correct because 'their' means more than one person and the body must be more than one. However, I wonder if their bodies could mean each person has more than one body. The reason I ask this question is because of the sentence below.

Frogs spend most of their life in water.

If 'their bodies' is correct, Should 'their life' in this sentence be 'their lives' because 'frogs' is plural?

2
  1. They should remove toxins from their body.
  2. They should remove toxins from their bodies.

If the entities (they) share a common body then the 1-st is correct otherwise the 2-nd is correct. Notice that "their" can either mean their own body(ies) or some body(ies) belonging to them.

  • They should remove toxins from their body. (Several men should remove toxins from a body of another man. The body belongs to the several men.)
  • They should remove toxins from their body. (Several men should remove toxins from a single body of theirs) - This is illogical.

"To talk about several people each doing the same thing, English usually prefers a plural noun for the repeated idea. Plural forms are almost always used in this case if there are possessives." Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, entry #530.1 AND: "After a plural possessive we do not normally use a singular noun in the sense of 'one each'." same, entry #441.4. This is called the 'distributive use'.


As for the "frogs" example. The sentence is speaking about the life of the species not individual frogs.

  • Frogs spend most of their life in water. (Each frog within the species "frogs" spends its life in water)

This can apply even to a particular group or subset.

  • Cave frogs spend most of their life in dark caves.

The easy way to understand it is to take a loving couple and imagine them either as a couple or as separate individuals:

  • Their life is full of adventures. (They both share one life)
  • Their lives are full of adventures. (Each of them has their own life)
  • Your illogical example could work, though, if "body" was used more figuratively. For example, sometimes a church congregation is referred to as a church "body". If people who were sowing seeds of discord among the group were labeled as "toxins," then one could well write, "They should remove toxins from their body." – J.R. Dec 28 '17 at 15:51
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    Don't forget that "they" can be singular, in the case when you don't want to specify a gender. "Each person was told, individually, that they should remove toxins from their body." It's not an ideal phrasing, but it is possible. – Andrew Dec 28 '17 at 15:51
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Both of the original statements can be correct, depending on the circumstances surrounding the statement.

If many people have been poisoned and can do so, then

they [plural] should remove toxins from their bodies

as you state, because there are many bodies owned between many people.

However, if a singular person of unknown gender has been poisoned can so so, then

they [singular indeterminate person] should remove toxins from their body.

The Frog statement is slightly less ambiguous, however, and your reasoning is correct.

Frogs spend most of their lives in water.

because there are many frogs with many lives between them.

  • Thank you. Your answer is very clear and I have learned new things from you. – James Dec 28 '17 at 11:33
  • I'm pretty certain that the sentence "Frogs spend most of their life in water" is also correct, it doesn't mean all the frogs on earth share the same life. Saying that, I do prefer the plural form "lives". – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '17 at 12:02
  • I did look at putting in in a more comprehensive answer, stating that some people would accept the plural/singular rather than just the plural/plural, but that the general acceptance would be plural/plural, but thought that would cloud the issue. :) – UselessInfoMine Dec 28 '17 at 12:28
  • If you skip something and avoid the more comprehensive answer, you can almost bet someone will add a comment and provide an additional clarification. @Mari-LouA is one of our better members about such things; she authors a lot of helpful comments. – J.R. Dec 28 '17 at 15:47

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